It is not a level of goodness that defines the believer. The moral unbeliever may treat his family and neighbors with more decency than the believing churchman. If the unbeliever would give his life to Christ he would be a better man still. But the onus placed upon the Christian, unknowable to the unbeliever, is the call and the capacity to Agape. This agape (love) is a supernatural grace to love God and those who do not return it in kind. It does not follow that every believer has fully apprehended this grace. An accounting will someday be held.
The first use of the word love in the Bible occurs in Genesis 22:2 to Abraham. “Take now thy son… whom thou lovest…and offer him there for a burnt offering. ” Faith mingled with holy fear motivates Abraham to obey. The Almighty commands it. The creature will obey. But there is more going on than just Abraham’s faith. He was not the sort of man to slay the son of his old age whom he loved and offer him in sacrifice to an impersonal, cruel deity. No amount of creaturely belief would lead him to commit such an act. However, Abraham who believed God for the conception and birth of Isaac knows and believes God loves him, and if him, also his son. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is Agape.” (I John 4:16)
God is Love. This is a fantastic description of God. Love is concrete. The essence of God in His splendor, His glory, His holiness, His faithfulness, His righteousness, His truthfulness, His Personhood, is love. It is personal and individualized. Before Nathaniel knew of Jesus, Jesus knew him, saw him under a fig tree from impossible distance, and loved him. Love is not God, but God is Love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
“For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:7) Our own experience as sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, teaches us that the chastising we receive as children and give as parents is born of love. Chastisement strictly speaking is distinct from punishment. Punishment is a reward of justice which demands just deserts. Regardless of penitence, justice asks for punishment. However, chastisement’s goal is to correct wrong attitudes and promote right living. Bond is maintained, communications are kept open. Punishment implies penalty. Chastisement implies restoration. Jesus voluntarily accepted punishment for sin’s just deserts and was deemed accepted. Now as believers, we are confident that in our Heavenly Father’s chastisement of us, He is loving us before, during, and afterward, steering us to make choices of the best things and ways. His hand is always on us for our benefit and is always a hand of love.
“We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19) Believers have the capacity and gift to return His love because as in all other things, He is here too, in love, the instigator. A lawyer asked Jesus in Matthew 22 what the greatest commandment in the law was. Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind…” Our heart - the seat of our spirit, the eternal life force in every man that is conscious of God; our soul - our sentience, awareness, personhood, the seat of our emotions; our mind - the seat of our thinking. Our trinity of being is to love God. Looking up with our spirit, looking within to our soul, and considering rationally with our mind, we love God. Having been so commanded it follows we are capable.